Where are the female sock puppets?

Believe me, I'm not lamenting the apparent lack of women being accused of, or confessing to, any current sock- puppet behaviour (for a decent summing up of the scandal, see Terence Blacker in this Independent piece: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/terence-blacker/terence-blacker-fake-reviews-are-just-the-start-in-the-dodgy-art-of-publishing-books-8102759.html?origin=internalSearch). But I have been intrigued about that lack. Oh I know, I know, some of you will say, it's that tired old feminist argument, if the boys are doing it why can't the girls have a shot at it, too, even if it's something rubbish/potentially illegal. But I have been intrigued nevertheless - and for a number of reasons.

It may be that minutes after this post goes up, a whole rash of women sock-puppets will be exposed and my questions will become null and void. But so far, it appears to have been a boys-only situation. The names of those writers who are accused of sock-puppeting or who have admitted to it, privately or otherwise, are so far pretty much exclusively male. Why so?

The problem with any question that looks at gender issues is that the generalisations soon come think and fast. Historically, it's women who have been considered guilty of deceitful, underhand behaviour - feminist theorists defend this as often the only option of resistance against oppression, a lack of power preventing face-to-face confrontation. Have these sock-puppeting men been experiencing a similar lack of power? Another aspect many have commented on is how the male writers involved in this scandal have been in the upper-selling bracket, the successful ones. Why resort to sneaky behaviour that smacks of powerlessness then?

I have also been wondering how it would be reported if these suck-puppets were all women? The word 'catfight' would almost certainly be bandied around. Gender would be a factor in the reporting, without a doubt. And yet, the many of exchanges that have been highlighted on blogs are stereotypically male, it seems to me. Those accused of sock-puppetry have engaged in some really unpleasant verbal antics - there's name-calling ('pinhead'), bullying tactics, threats, confrontational behaviour, a lack of proper information (the words 'free speech' have been used a lot, and most often, erroneously), and most of all perhaps, there's been a distinct lack of logic.

Mostly male defenders of the sock-puppets have claimed  the sock-puppets themselves are victims of a 'witch-hunt', or a 'baying mob'. They have complained of 'hysteria' aroused by the accusations. These are very interesting terms. 'Hysteria' and 'witch-hunts' are associated with women - two excellent books that explore the history of hysteria and women are Asti Hustvedt's Medical Muses: Hysteria in 19th Century Paris and Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present.

But, of course, the sock-puppets' primary accusers haven't been women - they are men. I've read their accusations and they don't strike me as hysterical at all. They are well-informed, logical, and have been looking for ways to rectify this situation with a clearly-worded letter of protest (you can sign up here: http://nosockpuppets.wordpress.com/). What chimes more with hysteria is the behaviour of the sock-puppets themselves - irrational arguments, or lashing out alternating with sneaky tactics etc etc.

Maybe that's why there are no women doing this. The stereotypical place that women were considered previously as occupying, as hysterical, logic-defying, powerless souls, has now been usurped - by men! And successful, money-making men at that! Now, who could have guessed....     


  1. As a PS, I should say, I do suspect something odd on the Amazon page of my book, Between the Sheets, which I've mentioned before, as both one-star reviews mention a 'rival' book instead (and in similar terms), and one of those reviewers has only ever posted up reviews on that date. Which all looks highly dodgy. But I have no further clue about who they are, whether they're real or not.

  2. And both reviews were, apparently anyway, by women!

  3. There's a bit more of this in the romance world. Much as I hate to link someone I consider acting like a bit of a bully, the site 'Dear Author' has written a bit on this bad behaviour which has been going on for a long time, but like everything else about the genre, it gets overlooked by anyone who's not in the field.

    Because, you know -- women. Mostly. More men have been writing romance because it can be such a lucrative field.

    And in the interest of full disclosure, I write romance (quite transparently as a matter of branding, i.e. not at all sock puppet-like) as Kit Marlowe and as C. Margery Kempe.

  4. Alas, it would appear that — as with so many things in the world — it only gets noticed when the men start talking about it.

  5. That's interesting, K. A. - I'll check out that site you mention. I did wonder about other genres, and about historical non-fiction too (after the Orlando Figes thing).

  6. On Amazon it might not be another author - there are some oddballs who use multiple identities to review things they've got a bee in their bonnet about... There's a man who keeps ranting about ferrets under all the hamster products... But I would say 'Between the Sheets' was negatively reviewed twice by the same person. Is there no way to complain to Amazon about it?

  7. From what I can gather, it's notoriously difficult to get Amazon to remove comments that authors have a problem with, although I will try with this one and let you know how I get on. I don't for one moment think they're from the author of the 'rival' publication, I should make that very clear. But I agree they seem to be by the same person.

    1. I hope they delete one of them at least. It's not fair and it does put off potential buyers.

  8. Well, I have now emailed them and put my case, and asked them to remove one of them. No reply yet!

  9. This is the reply I received from Amazon. I have since commented on the second review.

    Hello Lesley,

    I've read the reviews by "Hannah" and "Laura" for your book "Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers" I understand your concerns, but these reviews do not violate our posted guidelines, so I'm unable to remove them in their current format.

    However, as the author of this title, you can provide feedback about these reviews by voting or commenting on them. To vote, click the "Yes" or "No" buttons next to "Was this review helpful to you?" To comment, click the Comments link at the bottom of a review.

    We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received. Here's a link to our guidelines for reference:


    We appreciate your understanding. We hope to see you again soon


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